I’m intrigued by what counts as “wasting time”

Here’s a post at the NY Post about reading: Most Americans try to make time to read every day.

A new study of 2,000 Americans found that as many as 86 percent feel they make a conscious effort to read in some way every day.

First: Well, good.

Second: Two thousand is not very many. Which two thousand people did you survey? Urban, rural, young, old, and on and on.

Also: 26 percent of those studied feel they haven’t managed to read a full book in the past year. … Some of the main barriers to reading more were found to be scrolling through social media (49 percent), playing games on a phone (30 percent) and watching TV shows (29 percent) – all things Americans reported “wasting” their time on.

So this is self-perception that you’re wasting your time. That seems odd to me, as if you truly perceive television as a waste of time, why are you doing it? If it’s something you enjoy, is that actually a waste? More than reading a novel?

I mean, I basically don’t watch TV, but I know I’m missing out on some good stuff. I just enjoy reading more than watching TV. That doesn’t mean I don’t realize I’m missing out. I wouldn’t say someone is wasting their time watching TV unless they just sit there gazing at the screen for hours even though they don’t enjoy it.

I think this caught my attention because I know multiple authors who spend quite a bit of time playing video games, and that strikes me as similar: it could be a waste of time, but is that a fair characterization if you enjoy it? Even if it doesn’t lead to you writing, say, The Starfighter Invitation?

The most popular books mentioned include:

  1. “In Death” by J.D. Robb
  2. “Jack Reacher” by Lee Child
  3. “Robert Langdon” by Dan Brown

So that doesn’t seem to me to count as the kind of novel that most people would consider to be “worthy” of a lot of time. Is anything by Dan Brown more “worth” an investment of time than The Good Place or one of the other excellent current TV shows?

I will add that right there with the other activities that are perceived as a waste of time: sitting in traffic. This is surely not a comparable activity? NO ONE ever sits in traffic voluntarily. No one in the history of the world has ever said, “I could read JD Robb’s new book, but you know what, I’ll just go out and sit in traffic instead.” What a strange thing to include.

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5 thoughts on “I’m intrigued by what counts as “wasting time””

  1. The Good Place is never a waste of time! I think it’s tied with Steven Universe for my favorite show right now.

  2. Actually, it’s scary when you work it out in statistics class how small a sample can give you a surprisingly high degree of confidence.

  3. I can corroborate the feeling of having wasted time watching television; it’s why I disconnected my cable a decade ago.
    I find that my attention is easily caught by moving pictures and fragments of stories, and I am strongly averse to not finishing a story.
    This means I will often finish a book I don’t really like, once I’ve really started reading (it might get better after all, and the ending might bring a sense of closure – if it doesn’t, I feel doubly betrayed).
    I don’t mind spoilers, and the effect kicks in even if I know how it ends (though a bit less strongly, if I really dislike what I’m reading), which is why I’ll often check out the ending before buying, if I have that chance (i.e. in a physical book store).

    Watching tv, videos etc. also seems to trigger in me an appetite for more (like umami does, for me), a sort of restless zapping looking for more such stimulus, at least when I’m tired.

    This in combination with the attention-grabbing effect of the TV, when it’s on, often meant that I watched stuff I was only half interested in, and finished watching the movie though it ended well past my bedtime and was more adrenaline-fueledthan was good for me, before going to bed. That generally left me with the feeling of having wasted my time, realising I would have enjoyed my evening more if I’d just settled with my book instead of watching the news and then getting sucked in to spending the rest of the evening watching that stupid tv.

    In the end I had to get rid of my tv connection to break that habit, though I can still use it to watch DVDs (and do so maybe twice a year).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this meant I’ve got a bit of an addictive personality type, but I’d much rather be addicted to book reading than to watching tv, drinking or smoking.

    As lots of people get hooked on such bad habits, not just the 2% who have a really strongly addictive personality type, I guess some of those traits of mine would not be that uncommon in the wider populace.

  4. Hanneke, you’re probably right. Certainly I’ve seen people who seem to get sucked in that way. It would be interesting to see if there’s a correlation between people who watch lots and lots of television and people who have trouble DNFing books.

    As I get older, the idea of spending any time at all with a book I don’t like, or watching a show I don’t like, gets more and more repellent.

    I don’t have cable either, a complete waste of money when I basically don’t watch TV at all, just occasional DVDs. I know that means I miss shows I would like, but tough.

    SarahZ, I know! Not long ago, during a visit, my brother brought the first season of The Good Place so I got to watch some of the episodes. From everything I hear, the quality has been right up there for its whole run. Super clever show. I can’t believe some of the clever details and plot twists. How do the writers come up with that?

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